National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 8 (IV:2), 1966

Annual Index
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'Drawn by I. Bradley From Great Britton'

by Mary Childs Black, Director
Museum of Early American Folk Art, New York 
and Stuart P. Feld, Associate Curator
of American Paintings and Sculpture
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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Between 1832 and 1836, John Bradley had consistently signed his portraits with the archaic 'I. Bradley'. In 1836 for the first time  he signed himself ' J. Bradley'. This appears on the portrait of a serenely beautiful middle-aged woman in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, at Ottawa (Fig. 13). She is seated before a red-curtained window on a richly veneered 'pillar and scroll' sofa similar to those advertised by John Joseph Meeks of New York in 1833 (see Antiques, May 1962,  p. 504). In addition to earrings, a pin, a belt buckle, and four rings, she wears a gold cross on a chain, an unusual detail in an American painting of this period.

Although none of Bradley's paintings bear dates later than 1836, the seven remaining pictures can be dated within a few years on the basis of Bradley's changing ad dresses, which he consistently inscribed on his portraits from 1837 on. Five portraits have come to light with the signature' J. Bradley' and the address 128 Spring Street, where he worked from 1837 until 1844. Two of these paintings, now separated, appear to have been conceived as a pair. In addition to being inscribed identically, the two portraits work exceptionally well as pendants, and the subjects wear matching fobs on their watch chains. There are other interesting parallels in the histories of the two pictures. The man has been identified as Mr Britton (Fig. 14), a surveyor who laid out Bergen County in northeastern New Jersey. (The man holds a folding rule and a rolled plan that would indicate the profession of an architect or surveyor.) Although the name is known there, no Britton to suit this description has been located in Bergen County. The woman has been identified as Mrs Stephens  (Fig. 15), which would seem to make the connection an improbable one. But a portrait signed by J. Bradley was once owned by a woman with the last name of Stephens in Closter, a town in Bergen County. Miss Stephens no longer owns the signed portrait, and it seems likely that the Oberlin portrait was once hers. As frequently happened, the  owner's name became associated with that of the sitter. Like the subject of the Ottawa  portrait, the Oberlin lady wears an elaborately embroidered bertha and a quantity of jewellery. She sits on a similar sofa.

The sofa is repeated again in another of the portraits with the 128 Spring Street address (Fig.16). Boy on Empire Sofa sits rather stiffly  in Bradley's most exuberant version of the popular pillar and scroll sofa, holding a book titled The History of Robin Hood, which may have been a short title for The noble birth and gallant achievements of the remarkable outlaw Robin Hood, from a manuscript in the British Museum, which was published in London in 1827.

The two remaining portraits that date to 1837-44 are nearly identical. They are full-length portraits of children standing on brightly coloured carpets (Figs.17 & 18). In each case they share the picture with a large potted rosebush and a cat. Although one of the children has not been identified, the other was Emma Homan, who later became Emma Homan Thayer and, appropriately enough, made water-colour sketches of flowers that were used in books on horticulture. According to family tradition, and in spite of Bradley's street address on the front of the canvas, the portrait of Emma Homan was supposedly painted at Wading Brook or Wading River, a small village near Riverhead,  in Suffolk County, Long Island.

The latest of Bradley's works are the portraits of James Patterson Crawford and his wife Margaretta Bowne Crawford of Freehold, New Jersey (Figs.19 & 20). Both are signed J. Bradley and are inscribed with Bradley's last New York address,134 Spring Street, where he is listed in the New York City directories from 1844 to 1847. By this time, the camera was in common use, and the portraits show the influence of the new device; colours that were once clear, warm and bright are darkened and subdued. Bradley has seated Mrs Crawford next to the keyboard of a pianoforte, on which is set a clearly inscribed sheet of music: 'The Angers Whisper / Sung by Mr Wood, / A popular ballad from the Songs of the Superstitions of / Ireland / Written and Composed by / Samuel Lover / N. York [?] Published by E. Riley and Co 29 Chatham St: (According to the New York City directories, Edward C. Riley was in business as a 'prof. music' at 29 Chatham Street from 1833 through 1843.) The words and music that follow are nearly as legible as the title.

The only other work that has been recorded that may be by John Bradley is a pastel drawing of a vase of flowers on a marble slab.
It is signed, 'Drawn by J. Bradley - N.Y. 1846'. Its present location is unknown, so that it is impossible to determine whether it is by the same hand, but the form of the signature and the relationship of the subject to the still-life elements in Little Girl in Lavender and Emma Homan suggest that the attribution is not an improbable one.

All the known paintings by Bradley date between 1832 and 1847; for the last 11 years of this period he was a resident of New York City and was the only person of that surname to be listed in the New York City directories  as a painter, always as a portrait painter and sometimes as a miniature painter as well. The year following his disappearance from the Directory a number of painters named Bradley are listed - but in all likelihood these men were house or fancy painters and not artists. 

John Bradley showed a marked propensity to sign his portraits, frequently twice, and at this time no unsigned pictures can be convincingly attributed to him. At first he signed 'I. Bradley', later he signed ' J. Bradley', but never 'I. J. H. Bradley', the artist to whom The Cellist has been erroneously published  and exhibited for many years.

John Bradley left very few clues to his identity, his origins and his interests. Most of his known subjects lived in New York City, on Staten Island, and in New Jersey. He set down two pieces of music - one a popular Irish ballad - so accurately that they might still be played. He repeated his British origin five times and recorded the name of one of his subjects, Mary Totten, as 'Mairy'. Between 1820 and 1832, the date of Bradley's earliest known portrait, only two men listed as John or J. or I. Bradley arrived as immigrants in New York. One of them, John Bradley, a manufacturer from Liverpool, aged 26, arrived with his wife Sarah on 6 September 1827. But the more likely candidate to be the portrait painter is the John Bradley who arrived a year earlier on 7 August 1826, aboard the Carolina Ann. We know that he came from Ireland, but his age and occupation are not given.

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